A World Split Open: Love and Justice



“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” - Muriel Rukeyser.

Speaking the truth always has the power to split things open. Hearing truth spoken this week opened my heart…

I’m going to talk about social trouble in this entry. And an Oakland city council chamber. And a San Francisco soup kitchen. And experiences that many of you may never encounter. But all of this is germane to our lives. Why? Because we all have our own experiences. There is some event, for all of us, that breaks through our isolation and connects us firmly to someone we’ve never even met. This is a long story about love.

To act with love, in my experience, can mean caring deeply, offering help, listening intently, and setting good boundaries. Last Tuesday at the soup kitchen I got to do all four. With the same person. I started off by carrying a plate of food to a table for a thin white woman, likely in her late 60s. At the kitchen, where people have hard lives, it is often hard to determine age. She was already burdened and seemed less than steady, which is why I offered. I got her water, and listened for awhile to her harrowing tale, uncertain if it was true or if she just needed some attention. No matter. Either way, I made some time, then enjoined her to eat lunch, and went back to serving salad. Later that day, I had to escort her off the premises after she almost got into a fight with another guest. All of these actions were based on my attempts to love.

Sometimes love also spurs us toward irrational acts. Something in us is moved to do, or be, or speak. This happened to me Tuesday afternoon when I discovered there was a city council meeting happening in Oakland in which the family of slain Alan Blueford would speak. It was foolish for me to think I could attend. I had a 5 pm client and the meeting began at 6. I also had a conference call scheduled for 8pm. It would have been prudent to stay home, work, and eat dinner. Something inside me knew I couldn't. Instead, I quickly ate before my 5pm appointment, rushing to city hall after, on the train, arriving around 6:15. My spirit was goading me on. Upon arrival, the chambers were closed, doors blocked by police. People milled around, watching a captioned screen, talking quietly at the top of the grand staircase. Had I done all of this for nought? Then someone said there was room upstairs in the gallery, so up I went.

It was worth it. Not only was it good for the chambers to be packed in support of the family – letting the city of Oakland know that this case, this life, was of consequence – but it was good for me, personally, to be there. Compelled by some irrational force, my soul knew that what I needed was to hear the heart rending words of Alan’s mother, father, cousin, grandfather, aunt. It was important for me to hear the community cry out in anger and pain. It was important for my heart to break open.

“Alan Blueford was a light in this world.” - Jeralyn Blueford

Alan Blueford’s case is tragic, but likely no one outside the San Francisco Bay Area has even heard of him. Why? Alan is just another young, bright, black man killed by the police. It doesn’t matter that he was getting ready to graduate high school. It doesn't matter that he had spoken with his mother before leaving the house.  What matters is that the situation started because he was a young black man waiting for a ride on a corner with other young black men. The fact that this is all so commonplace as to not be news is part of the tragedy.

As a white woman from the poor and working classes, now living a middle class life, intellectually, I have known all of this. Intellectually, I have known that young black men are killed each day, and that our prisons overflow with men of color, warehoused in a deck-stacked, racist system. Intellectually I have known that a parent must feel anguish at the killing of a child. But I had never before wept upon hearing the pain of these parents as they spoke and as they cried.

In these times there is more tragedy than we can fathom so we numb ourselves in order to feel less. In these times, it is paramount that our hearts split open on occasion, connecting us with one another in ways that surpass all divisions. We must find a way to love, for without love, there is seldom justice. Without love, none of us stand a chance. Without love, Alan Blueford is just another lost life. We must – I must – consistently enter love's presence.

What moves you? What opens you? What connects you? What cracks the hardened shell of despair, anger, complacency, or numbness? What is your city council chamber, or soup kitchen? What fills you with the flow of love?

Find that. Share that. Try to live that. Please, use the comments section to tell us what connects you to your soul and to the world. Every connection helps repair what feels broken.

May God Herself flow through us.


For Alan's family, I offer my sorrow and my prayers. May we all work to bring justice. I'll continue to attempt that, too.

And to Brandy Martell, who’s name was also spoken in those chambers, may the murder of trans women also cease some day. Too many of your sisters have fallen. May there be love and justice for your lost life, as well.


photo by Jennifer Inez Ward/Oakland Local


10 Responses to “A World Split Open: Love and Justice”

  1. Madelon Wise

    This post moves me deeply, and “conincidentally” precisely reflects what is alive in me right now. Finding that balance of feeling and meaning without becoming overwhelmed is a constant dance for me. My heart was recently rent wide open by the tragedy of a close friend, and several other recent incidents have touched that open heart: my grandchildren, listening to the despair of a drunk in the park, dancing in beauty and vulnerability with others, attending a 5 Rhythms workshop with earnest seekers.

    The children and their beauty move me and being present with them opens me. So does music, dance, and gardening. There I am connected and filled with love.

    I have been attending a series of workshops on racial justice put on by our YWCA. I am learning so much. It is painful and frustrating and makes me incredibly sad. I never set out to be the Whitest woman on the planet nor to live in overwhelmingly White places. I think I’m well educated, smart, and caring. But I have so little information about racism. I do not know what I will do with this information, but it feels worth the effort to be present to this work.

  2. Thorn

    Madelon, these are exactly the stories we need to share with one another. Thank you so much for writing your experiences. The more we stay present with these situations, the more we can learn… and hopefully, slowly, things change.

  3. Annette

    Thanks for the reminder that setting boundaries is also an act of love, this is one of the big issues I struggle with.
    I also volunteer at a shelter, and encounter women whose stories rip my heart open, and I feel a deep connection with them in knowing that our places could be very easily exchanged: in the current chaos of our community basic rights, a place to live, things like access to heat, electricity, and water/sewer are not guaranteed. Many people live without them.
    I have stopped worrying about the real possibility of becoming homeless myself, and instead just focus on being grateful for each day I have a place to live. This takes much of the fear away.

  4. Gerry

    Just about two months ago I received a series of text messages from my nineteen year old daughter. She was out with a couple of friends and through these texts related to myself and my wife the experiences that one of these friends, also nineteen, had gone through that day. It seems that this young woman had just returned home to her parents house from visiting her girlfriend in another state. I am not sure what led up to it, but during the course of an argument she came out to her parents concerning her sexuality. Of course her accepting, loving, religious parents, immediately told her she was going to hell and turned her out of their home. She left with nothing but the clothes on her back and the contents of the bag she had taken on her trip. If this was not enough her parents then contacted all of the girls relatives telling them not to shelter or help their daughter in any way. There is nothing objectionable about this girl. She is law abiding, holds down a job, is disciplined, respectful and polite. The fact that this bright, beautiful young soul was cast out by her own for being who she is breaks me – shields down! In spite of her family, this girl will have food, will have shelter, will have someplace to make a start from. She is welcome in my home as long as she has need.

  5. Stephanie H-Brown

    Thorn: what an intense experience for you. As a nurse in the Er seeing so many homeless and emotionally fragile people, I would often feel like I had a raw open sore in my soul for these people. I quickly learned that I had to kind of harden my heart just to keep the sadness from enveloping me like a fog.(I would not recommend this). I decided it would be better if I would help each one in some special way that would hopefully make their day a bit better…like a meal I bought for them or $ for a bus ticket to the closest shelter I made sure saved a bed for them. Or even just some clean dry clothes. We could get so overwhelmed by the horrors of humanity at times that most of us had to have some way of honoring the love in our own lives as well as for those less fortunate. That would often be a spiritual practice or yoga/meditation yet a lot of us just continued to volunteer our time caring for those without insurance at shelters like your soup kitchen, delivering meals on wheels, volunteering as school helpers or even just working more.
    What I value more now that I am retired, are still some of the same things. I will always be an advocate for those in need of health care and am involved with a group in my home town that is very involved with Human Dignity issues. We are challenging ourselves, in a very republican small town, to educate and inform the community that we must come together to change the broken systems. We have a school district that has a huge percentage of free meal children and one of the highest unemployment rates in the state as well as a huge number of Hispanics; all needing services. As members of Human Dignity Advocates we are working with our representatives to help solve some of these issues. This is my 60’s moment in time-I was so involved in school during the 60’s my protest time was at a bare minimum-so now I can make a difference by giving my time and energy which is also my love for mankind. I am grateful for parents who did instill in me the idea that we are all here to help and love each other not just ourselves!

  6. Rootrealm

    I am so amazed at all the social justice work that you have time, energy, interest and the calling to do: so many stories you share feature wisdom gleaned from these encounters.

    My politics are different from yours, more conservative, yet regardless of political or social views I am moved by a situation in which I encounter people genuinely suffering (which I can often intuitively distinguish from whining or complaining). The more “in person” my encounter with people , the more potential for me to really be touched and opened, so it would be better for me to see things in person rather than read about them in the news, though this generally is not possible.

    What moves and opens me? I am moved and my heart is opened by experiences of the divine, which may be in music, in beauty, or in vulnerability. Vulnerability and gentleness, tenderness, inevitably lead to more love, both for myself and others.

    I am moved when I see human vulnerability, because this puts me back in contact with my own vulnerability. I am moved when I glimpse the face behind the mask, because that helps me come out from behind my own mask. My day to day work in home repairs is very task-oriented and “hard-faced”, and it is also very often physically uncomfortable work. I often feel too sick or fatigued to go to work but have to go anyway. It would be best if I could create more space for feeling just as I do while I work, which would allow me contact with my own vulnerability. I struggle to do this more. I struggle trying to be in touch with my tenderness and I consider that the chronic illness I suffer from is my own psyche trying to guide me into more intimacy and love for myself. Such an illness though can be a two edged sword. While it can help me be tender, it can also make me very irritable and impatient when I am forced to do hard physical work when I am feeling fatigued and mentally and emotionally completely drained. I don’t know exactly what are all the lessons I’m supposed to be learning, but I do believe that a continual process of opening up to more love and tenderness is the most important work of all.

    Currently, creating more SPACE, particularly space for stillness, and working on letting go, are the main things I’m working on. I believe that if I create space, whatever is most needed in my life and for my psyche will flow into that space, including love.

  7. Crystal Blanton

    Thank you Thorn for keeping the true concept of social justice alive in all of us. I often times wonder how long I can do this work, look in the faces of children who are victims of a socially inadequate community and then watch them be further victimized by the lack of concern for their lives. This year alone I have had one student shot and disabled, and two killed. We have to find a way to stand up together and work every angle that we can to fight for justice for those who cannot fight for it themselves. It is a human issue, it is a community issue and it is a Pagan issue. As a minority religion we need to support the rights of the under privileged and fight for equal opportunities to thrive for all people.

    I am so glad that someone like you could represent the work so well in this case and cases like this. Thank you for your work.

  8. Thorn

    I feel so grateful and so moved reading everyone’s words and stories. One thousand words of thanks.

    Annette, Rootrealm, Stephanie, Gerry, it is heartening to read the care in your words, and your willingness to be emotionally moved and then to act from that place, in all the varied ways you are doing so. That, to me, is the key. We are moved, touched, split open… but we don’t just wallow in the big emotions. We allow the emotions to galvanize us.

    Crystal, I hope you find a way to get the succor you need, so your work can continue. I went through that when I was at the soup kitchen full time. I finally needed a long break before I could come back to it.

    It is interesting that you mention Paganism. At one moment in the council chambers I felt the importance of being there as a priestess, even though no one knew there was a priestess among them. I witnessed not only as a person, and a citizen, but as a Pagan priest. If divinity is immanent, fighting for justice is an honoring of that immanence.

  9. Anita P

    For several years I worked in a community kitchen in a small resort town where I lived and owned property for over 20 years. Free lunches are served every weekday, and each Thanksgiving, they hold a dinner for the community. Lots of people come, including those who are not needy, but just want company, or whose cooking skills are not up to preparing holiday fare. Lots of homeless people show up too, but they are frequently made to eat outside, where there are no tables or chairs, and they have to sit on the curb, on the sidewalk, or in the grass. I protested about this repeatedly, and was told to “shut up and mind your own business”.
    The last year that I worked there, Thanksgiving dinner was about halfway over when the local press showed up, and the photographer was flashing pictures all over the place. When he came up to the line, he took one picture, and then the reporter he was with stopped him, and went to speak to the director. I saw them look over and point at me. I didn’t pay any further attention until they came over to me and tried to pull me out of the serving line. I was right in the middle of loading a plate for someone, and just said “What do you want?” in a completely normal tone of voice. The reporter shoved me aside, and started speaking to a woman nearby, who had showed up just that one day. He interviewed her, while the director physically yanked me back into her office…and fired me from my volunteer position! I was told I was “uppity” because I questioned her when she pulled me off the line. I was angry, but I left, without having had the chance to eat. I went home, cooked something, and had my holiday meal alone. The next day, a neighbor called me, and said “You’re in the paper, but they got your name wrong. What gives?” I went over to her house, she showed me the paper- and sure enough, there I was on the front page, serving food. The caption gave this other woman’s info, and lavishly praised her volunteer service. She had only shown up that one day, but THAT was who they interviewed, LOL. (I bet the reporter just about flipped when my picture wound up being printed instead. I guess the photographer was not happy, and got even in the only way he could.) The big deal about it all, was not just that I was pushed out of service and then fired, but that the woman they wanted to feature was a White woman with strawberry-blonde hair, and I am Latin-looking. The woman seemed nice enough, but in all fairness I should also tell you that she showed up just in time to serve, and did nothing to clean and prepare the kitchen or cook the food. She had never shown up before, and others who still work there say that she left without helping with clean-up -and they never saw her again.
    Clearly the director and reporter didn’t want me in the picture, and the director capitalized on her chance to be rid of me.
    Oh, and the cherry on top: The director was fired shortly thereafter for misappropriation of funds, and for neglecting her responsibilities at the kitchen- not surprising, since she usually spent her time locked in her office doing Goddess-knows-what, while I and others ran things and did all the work. Obviously, it had nothing to do with serving those in need, as far as she was concerned.
    The word from others who stayed at the kitchen is that now when things have gotten really desperate with the economy- most of the people who go and eat those free meals on normal weekdays are successful businessmen in the area, who are too cheap to buy lunch, and too lazy to brown-bag it; often the homeless and needy are shoved to the back of the line until there is nothing left. Then, if they are lucky, they might be given a PB&J to take away with them.
    This is how so many of our fellow citizens really feel about living with those of us who do not look like we’ve stepped out of a Wonderbread commercial.
    I have since moved away from that region, though I remain in touch with old friends and neighbors.

  10. Thorn

    May we learn compassion. May we learn to not shove each other to the back of the line.


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